June 10, 2015
Toward the end of the presidency of George H.W. Bush, America stood alone at the top of the world—the sole superpower.
After five weeks of “shock and awe” and 100 hours of combat, Saddam’s army had fled Kuwait back up the road to Basra and Bagdad.
Our Cold War adversary was breaking apart into 15 countries. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Germany was reunited. The captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe were breaking free.
Bush I had mended fences with Beijing after the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were friends.
The president declared the coming of a “new world order.” And neocons were chattering about a new “unipolar world” and the “benevolent global hegemony” of the United States.
Consider now the world our next president will inherit.
North Korea, now a nuclear power ruled by a 30-something megalomaniac, is fitting ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
China has emerged as the great power in Asia, entered claims to all seas around her, and is building naval and air forces to bring an end to a U.S. dominance of the western Pacific dating to 1945.
Vladimir Putin is modernizing Russian missiles, sending ships and planes into NATO waters and air space, and supporting secessionists in Eastern Ukraine.
The great work of Nixon and Reagan—to split China from Russia in the “Heartland” of Halford Mackinder’s “World Island,” then to make partners of both—has been undone. China and Russia are closer to each other and more antagonistic toward us than at any time since the Cold War.
Terrorists from al-Qaida and its offspring and the Islamic Front run wild in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia. Egypt is ruled by a dictatorship that came to power in a military coup.
Japan is moving to rearm to meet the menace of North Korea and China, while NATO is but a shadow of its former self. Only four of 28 member nations now invest 2 percent of their GDP in defines.
With the exception of the Soviet Union, some geostrategists contend, no nation, not defeated in war, has ever suffered so rapid a decline in relative power as the United States.
What are the causes of American decline?
Hubris, ideology, bellicosity and stupidity all played parts.
Toward Russia, which had lost an empire and seen its territory cut by a third and its population cut in half, we exhibited imperial contempt, shoving NATO right up into Moscow’s face and engineering “color-coded” revolutions in nations that had been part of the Soviet Union and its near-abroad.
Blowback came in the form of an ex-KGB chief who rose to power promising to restore the national greatness of Mother Russia, protect Russians wherever they were, and stand up to the arrogant Americans.